What does it mean to be safe at home?
The theme of this year's Sexual Assault Awareness Month campaign is Prevention is Possible -- and if you scroll through the hashtag on Twitter, you'll find lots of prevention tips. But one tip that I stumbled across was particularly problematic. It advised young women to avoid sexual assault by "staying safe at home."
The idea that someone should stay at home to avoid being sexually assaulted is flawed on many levels, but let's start with the most damaging. In eight out of 10 cases of rape, the victim knows the person who sexually assaulted them. The idea of safety of the home is crushed when you consider that the odds are you'll open the door for an offender -- because overwhelmingly, assaults are perpetrated by an intimate partner or acquaintance. Still, the misinformed ideas behind tips like these are commonly held. Too often, sexual violence is viewed as something that is inevitable -- or if it is preventable, that prevention is a potential victim's responsibility.
Sexual violence prevention is possible, but like any other public health issue, it requires tackling the root causes of the problem. Tips like watch your drinks, travel in groups, or don't leave the safety of your house aren't going to bring about systematic changes. We must instead change the societal and cultural norms which allowed those behaviors to exist; we need to put an end to rape culture. Rape culture is a result of other societal oppressive behaviors, such as sexism, homophobia, and racism. Oppression condones violence, uses power to control others, and excuses unfair treatment and harm while creating a culture in which inequality thrives and violence is seen as normal. Everything from the casual sexist joke in the blockbuster of the week to victim-blaming is a part of it.
If we are truly going to prevent sexual violence, we're going to have to work to create a cultural shift. A fight that big can't rest on the shoulders of dedicated social justice warriors and rape crisis center employees, and it can't just be an issue we think about during April. Everyone needs to, and is able to, stand up to oppression. It may sound like an ambitious objective, but what is the alternative? Staying inside? We already know that won't work.
Taking a stand against oppression and ultimately preventing sexual violence comes down to one goal: ensuring that everyone is treated with respect and equality. The foundation of combating oppression starts with all of us promoting and modeling healthy attitudes and relationships. It is also critical that we intervene to stop problematic and disrespectful behavior. Maybe you're already doing some or all of those things -- so ask yourself, how can you widen the impact?
One way is to find opportunities to activate your community. Communities can create and strengthen policies to promote safety, equality, and respect. Many college campuses are already utilizing prevention strategies to create safe environments. For example, Cornell University has a policy which gives alcohol and drug amnesty to bystanders or victims reporting sexual violence. California State University has policy positions on sexual misconduct and affirmative consent, while Emory University trains fraternity and sorority members in bystander intervention and consent.
But the private sector also needs to play a part in combating oppression. One of the more obvious ways is by creating marketing campaigns that promote positive messages and healthy behaviors. The objectification of women in advertising has far-reaching effects that are well known. Advertising campaigns should model those healthy attitudes that the rest of us work towards in our own lives.
We have to rely on the determination of one another to stand against oppression -- not on locked doors. It can be easy to dismiss the idea that showing respect, having healthy attitudes and relationships, and speaking up when you witness problematic behaviors can end rape culture. But it's the only thing that ever will. Safety shouldn't be dependent on who you're with or where you are. In a world where we promote equality, we can prevent sexual violence. And when sexual violence is prevented, we can all, truly, be safe at home.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center in conjunction with Sexual Assault Awareness Month. To learn more about the NSVRC and how you can help prevent sexual violence, visit here. Read all posts in the series here.